State Supt. Mike Flanagan said he leaves his job with schools in a “continuous wash of confusing redirection.”
(Mike Flanagan is superintendent of the Michigan Department of Education. )
As another school year ends, and I close out an over 40-year career in public education in Michigan witnessing the last 15 years of education reform efforts, both nationally and here in Michigan, the fact is – the system still is broken.
While we have seen statewide gains in graduation rates; third grade reading proficiency; and college entrance exam scores, we still have some low-performing schools; schools in financial deficit; and achievement gaps among groups of students.
Differences in philosophies on reforms; differences in political influences; and entrenched ideologies at the state and federal levels have kept our system of schools in a continuous wash of confusing redirection.
Yes. The system is broken, but not the people in the system.
There are many things to fix that affect Michigan’s children beyond what goes on inside the walls of our school buildings; just a few examples are:
- Child poverty is up 35 percent in the last 10 years
- There are over 40,000 homeless children in Michigan
- The Michigan infant mortality rate is over .6 percent (760 children in 2014), a percentage that nearly doubles for African-American infants
- Over 60 percent of teens have consumed alcohol; 33 percent have used marijuana; 16 percent have used unprescribed medications; and 16 percent of Michigan teens have considered committing suicide
Critics often compare Michigan’s academic achievement with other nations around the world, like Finland – the highest achieving.
Michigan’s child poverty rate is 25 percent. Finland’s is 5 percent. All four-year-olds in Finland have access to high-quality preschool, while 60 percent of the poor four-year-olds in the U.S. get none. Teachers in Finland are revered, while many teachers in the U.S. are seen in a different light.
We don’t want to lower our academic rigor and standards for Michigan’s low-income students and students facing tough personal circumstances. We want all of Michigan’s children to succeed at the highest levels.
But let’s face it, educators in nations like Finland aren’t being asked or expected to take on the heavy lift that many Michigan educators are asked to take on every day.
In my 10 years as State Superintendent, I have visited a different school district every month, in every corner of our great state. I wanted to see and listen firsthand to what was going on in Michigan’s classrooms, and I have been witness to tremendous innovations and changes occurring at the local level.
The foundation of what is good in our schools is the teachers and support staff.
In all of the political posturing and fact-bending going on with education critics – from all sides – the people most often blamed are the actual heroes in our classrooms.
They are feeling demoralized and scapegoated at a time when we need to be honoring their work and their profession. We need to support their efforts. First, because they deserve it for driving our kids to achieve. Also, because we need to continue to attract the best talent to the profession.
No other profession impacts as many people as teachers do. Teachers influence the future. Every one of us has been positively influenced by at least one teacher.
Next to my parents, the greatest person who had an impact on my life was my teacher, Ms. Kubler. As a student who struggled and didn’t fit in at a suburban school after leaving Brooklyn, N.Y., she helped me believe in myself and a boundless future.
There are teachers like my Ms. Kubler in every school building in Michigan.
I’ve had the honor to have met them and watch them teach. I’ve seen them during my school visits; in my teacher advisory groups; at the State Board of Education meetings; and when I was a local superintendent.
As State Superintendent, I’ve had the privilege to make the surprise announcements of the Michigan Teachers of the Year for the past 10 years. I have seen their students and colleagues jump with joy at the announcement events.
The emotions and gratitude were genuine, and I often wondered if the residents of their districts fully realized what great teachers they had in their schools.
Teachers and support staff have a passion and commitment to educating our children. They persist through the daily challenges that confront them, and focus on their students. Consider the teachers with students who come to school hungry, or tired, or unloved, or unsupported, or beaten and frightened.
Teachers have a powerful impact on thousands of kids during their careers. They have a far greater impact on students than does a State Superintendent.
For many students, their teachers are the difference-makers. Teachers instruct. They encourage. They motivate. They inspire. They nurture. They create. They rescue.
I am so proud of our teachers, including my daughter, Christa. They are life-savers and life-builders. They give our children hope. Please take time today to thank a teacher you had, or one you know.